First LOPES Academy students treasure paid status at Lope Shop

After two years at the LOPES Academy strengthening their job skills, Kyle Bragelman (right) and Jaden Lowery were hired at the Lope Shop.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read more about the LOPES Academy's work to help participants achieve employment in this related story by Mark Gonzales.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Midway through his first day as a paid employee of the Lope Shop, Jaden Lowery was eager to accommodate a customer looking for a specific T-shirt.

He displayed no signs of nervousness as he walked directly toward the section of the customer’s preferred shirt.

“It feels good,” Lowery said of receiving a badge validating his status as an employee. “I’m getting paid.”

For Lowery and friend Kyle Bragelman, their first day as Lope Shop employees June 27 represented a zenith for Grand Canyon University’s LOPES Academy, a nondegree program for neurodiverse young adults that focuses on workforce development skills.

Lowery and Bragelman served as interns at the Lope Shop for the final semester of their two-year stint, impressing program officials and store employees with their relentless passion to work, their attention to detail, their bonding with fellow workers and their cohesiveness.

“They impressed every single person during their internships,” Lope Shop Operations Manager Garrett Miller said. “They killed it. They're quick learners and hard workers. That's what we look for here.”

Shortly before the store doors opened June 27, Miller distributed badges and noticed the excitement when Lowery and Bragelman saw their name tags with job titles.

“Jaden put his arms in the air (and said), ‘I got a promotion!’" Miller said. “That was cool to see.”

Said Bragelman: “It feels amazing. I went from retail floor intern to sales associate.

“A lot of people say getting paid is the best part. But, in my opinion, I think the best part about working here is working with your friends.”

Lowery stocks new GCU logo hats at the Lope Shop.

But neither Lowery, 19, nor Bragelman, 20, took their new positions for granted on the first day. Lowery listened intently as Miller told him to make sure merchandise was in the proper sections and to search for any price tags that might have fallen to the floor.

About an hour later, Bragelman pushed a bin full of neatly folded GCU apparel from the storage room to the store floor with assistance from Lowery, and Bragelman asked Miller about organizing size tags in drawers.

After nine students received their certificates of participation in late April, LOPES Academy Program Manager Allison Mancinelli Kolanko and her team spent many hours trying to ensure that Lowery and Bragelman would find employment that highlighted their skills and intrinsic motivation to work.

Mancinelli Kolanko’s rapport with Lowery and Bragelman, steady communication with Miller, and her background in job training, has enhanced a seamless transition from interns to paid employment at the Lope Store, said Miller.

“She's built a relationship with the boys over the last two years and kind of understands them really well,” Miller said. “And her experience with job coaching is so helpful.”

A lot of people say getting paid is the best part. But in my opinion, I think the best part about working here is working with your friends.

Lope Shop employee Kyle Bragelman,
who recently completed the LOPES Academy program

Mancinelli Kolanko believed working for Miller during their internships helped Lowery and Bragelman’s comfort level, as well as maintaining communication with them and their parents to assess post-program assessment goals upon their completion of the academy to their first day as paid employees.

Like any paid employee, Lowery and Bragelman had to be cleared by GCU’s Human Resources department and understand verbiage, such as I-9 forms (to confirm employment eligibility).

The all-around support, fueled by the supervision of Mancinelli Kolanko, enabled Lowery and Bragelman to fulfill their requirements and start working as paid employees after a thorough vetting process.

“I definitely know where everything is and where to go,” Lowery said. “It’s like folding clothes, like my old home again, doing my job.”

Bragelman espoused similar feelings about returning to the Lope Shop.

“What I like most about my job is working with people I know,” Bragelman said. “Because when you actually have friends to work with, it actually makes work fun because you can chat with them.”

That includes working with Lowery.

Besties Kyle Bragelman and Jayden Lowery (from left) went from completing their LOPES Academy certificate to being offered jobs at the Lope Shop.

“He’s more than a friend,” Bragelman said. “He’s my bestie.”

But Lowery and Bragelman know work comes first. Lowery admits that bagging apparel and other goods is his favorite job, but he likes the benefits of talking to customers.

Bragelman relishes the simple interaction with people, no matter if he’s folding apparel or assisting customers. It also provides an alternative to his other job as a landscaper for The Centers for Habilitation (TCH).

“I like this job a lot more because you’re inside,” said Bragelman, whose duties for TCH consist of mowing lawns, trimming bushes, spraying and ripping weeds with co-workers.

There will be more challenges for Lowery and Bragelman, a testament to their willingness to learn and the confidence of Miller and Mancinelli Kolanko.

“They're going to be more in charge of some technical stuff, or technological stuff,” Miller said. “They're going to be running iPads, helping with pickups.

“And then I would love to train them on a register eventually. They kind of built the back end, the inside of the store. But we're going to add some stuff.”

One of the most anticipated unveilings at the Lope Shop will occur soon, with a complete line of apparel displaying the school’s new logo featuring horizonal lines slashed through the GCU letters. The new design reflects the speed, agility and modern look of the “Running Lope” logo that GCU will continue to be known for.

Athletic shorts with the new logo are now available in the store, but members of the men’s basketball program and youth basketball campers sported new workout shirts featuring the tilted GCU letters with the slashes.

“I think the customers will like a new logo,” Lowery said.

Bragelman was more emphatic about being involved in the potential sales and increasing popularity of apparel featuring the new logo.

“I like the lines,” Bragelman said. “People are going to be coming in here shortly asking for that merchandise, so I'm sure you're very eager to show them where it's at.

“Welcome to the new. Out with old, and in with the new.”

Senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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